French-Japanese designer Kenzō Takada passed away October 4, 2020 at the age of 81 due to complications of COVID-19. Throughout his 29 year career as a designer at his eponymous label Kenzo, he explored colorful styles, clashing prints, and Japanese influence. All of which caught the attention of fashion elites everywhere. His success in the fashion industry opened doors for career opportunities in fragrance, home décor, and art. To commemorate his incredible work, here’s a lookback at Takada’s career at Kenzo.
Kenzō Takada’s interest in fashion began at a very early age when he started reading his sister’s fashion magazines. Determined to make a career out of his passion, he enrolled in Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College. The college had only just began to take male applicants. Though he got a job designing for the Sanai department store, this wasn’t yet the height of his career. His career took off largely when he travelled to Paris by boat stopping in cities such as Hong Kong, Saigon, Mumbai and Marseilles along the way. Upon his arrival in 1965, Takada was not impressed with Paris, describing it as “dark” and “cold”. Selling his designs to couture houses for only 25 francs did not help his fatalistic view on Paris and he nearly moved back to Japan but the determination of opening a boutique fashion house kept him there long enough to see his dreams become a reality.
Building a Brand
In 1970, Takada met a woman at a flea market who offered to rent him space in the Galerie Vivienne. Taking this opportunity to make it as a designer in Paris, he gathered the little money he had to mix and match fabrics for his first collection. This established his career long signature of mixing prints, patterns and colors. Takada took inspiration from Henri Rousseau, specifically pulling floral and jungle elements which led him to name his first store “Jungle Jap”. Despite the controversy that arose from the name, Elle featured one of his looks on the cover. It created enough buzz to usher his brand to the spotlight, allowing him to present his collection in New York and Japan the following year, then going on to win the Fashion Editor Club of Japan prize in 1972. He opened his Paris flagship store, changing the name to Kenzo, in 1976. He expanded into menswear in 1983, created a children’s line in 1986 and ventured into the fragrance industry in 1980.
The clothes weren’t the only unconventional part about Kenzo’s collections. Takada utilized the see-now-buy-now model before it was widely popular. His hand-sewn techniques from early on in his career were unfamiliar to the industry. He also featured ready-to-wear during couture season, before the concept of ready-to-wear shows even existed. Along with his mix of patterns, he used cotton fabrics which allowed him to play with proportion and silhouette. His unrestrictive and playful clothing were different than anything in high fashion at the time, making him a name to remember and a brand to shop. His presentations of these collections were just as exuberant as the clothing itself. In 1977, he held his show at Studio 54 where Grace Jones sang and supermodels Jerry Hall and Pat Cleveland walked down the runway. In 1979, he held his show in a circus tent and rode in on the back of an elephant.
Though Takada retired from his brand in 1999 to pursue art, he built a solid foundation for his brand. His inspiration from travelling, his culture and art he loved merged together to create inventive pieces that not only gained the attention of fashion elites, but the everyday person. Kenzō Takada leaves a legacy as an incredible visionary who paved the way for Japanese designers. He inspired many others to look beyond the ordinary and create art that gives people joy.